Water splitting–biosynthetic system with CO2 reduction efficiencies exceeding photosynthesis

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Science  03 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6290, pp. 1210-1213
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf5039

Artificial photosynthesis steps up

Photosynthesis fixes CO2 from the air by using sunlight. Industrial mimics of photosynthesis seek to convert CO2 directly into biomass, fuels, or other useful products. Improving on a previous artificial photosynthesis design, Liu et al. combined the hydrogen-oxidizing bacterium Raistonia eutropha with a cobalt-phosphorus water-splitting catalyst. This biocompatible self-healing electrode circumvented the toxicity challenges of previous designs and allowed it to operate aerobically. When combined with solar photovoltaic cells, solar-to-chemical conversion rates should become nearly an order of magnitude more efficient than natural photosynthesis.

Science, this issue p. 1210


Artificial photosynthetic systems can store solar energy and chemically reduce CO2. We developed a hybrid water splitting–biosynthetic system based on a biocompatible Earth-abundant inorganic catalyst system to split water into molecular hydrogen and oxygen (H2 and O2) at low driving voltages. When grown in contact with these catalysts, Ralstonia eutropha consumed the produced H2 to synthesize biomass and fuels or chemical products from low CO2 concentration in the presence of O2. This scalable system has a CO2 reduction energy efficiency of ~50% when producing bacterial biomass and liquid fusel alcohols, scrubbing 180 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity. Coupling this hybrid device to existing photovoltaic systems would yield a CO2 reduction energy efficiency of ~10%, exceeding that of natural photosynthetic systems.

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